Top 10 Ways to Live Abundantly with Diabetes
Last week I participated in an online diabetes discussion and was accused of not having diabetes. Since I’ve had Type 1 diabetes since 1967, this accusation surprised me. The reason for the accusation? Among other things, this person said it was “obvious” I don’t have diabetes because I don’t mention it in any of my social media profiles and do not talk about it constantly. As a result of this, I began reviewing profiles of people I know have diabetes. Out of over forty profiles, I was the only one who does not mention having diabetes in the first 30 characters of the profile. For people who are diabetes advocates or who work in the diabetes industry, that’s fine. For anyone else, I find it heartbreaking.
Why heartbreaking? Because these people have made diabetes the sole focus of their journey. Instead of viewing diabetes as a challenge that is a secondary part of their life, they view it as the primary matter that defines their existence. I find this heartbreaking! Yes, diabetes is a serious disease; and yes, it requires constant vigilance, but it should never become the factor that defines how a person views him or herself. In fairness, there are many medical conditions which people allow to become their identity instead of being a tiny part of their life. This phenomenon is not limited to diabetes, but seems to be exceptionally common in people with diabetes.
Sadly, this has become very common. Medical professionals often encourage patients to become victims and tell the newly-diagnosed that their disease must become the focus of all their attention. They also often tell patients that diabetes will impair their quality of life and eventually kill them. I consider this the worst form of malpractice. Patients need to be educated about their diagnosis and need to be told about its seriousness, but they should never be convinced they must become invalids who cannot live normal lives. They must be encouraged and trained to control diabetes instead of letting diabetes control them. Diabetes is a fickle condition that doesn’t always obey the rules and rarely does what the textbook says it should. It can be frustrating, but should never become all-consuming. In my case, I have never and will never allow diabetes to prevent me from doing something I wish to. I maintain normal glucose levels by eating a unique diet, exercising and using insulin. (For those who are familiar with diabetes control, my A1Cs run under 6.0. I intend to keep them in the normal level.) I’m not non-compliant and I certainly don’t ignore the fact I have diabetes, but I don’t let it control my life, either. I control it and I’ve learned to deal with unexpected occurrences with humor and acceptance.
It drives me crazy to constantly see diabetes “support” organizations make statements such as, “Having diabetes is hard,” or “Diabetes is a constant stressor.” (Those are direct quotes taken from national diabetes support groups with online channels.) Having diabetes is only hard or stressful if you choose to view it as such. Diabetes is a serious disease, but it should NEVER become such a large focus of someone’s life that they cease to live normally. I talk to many people who tell me they “can’t” do things because of diabetes. My consistent response to that is, “Why the heck not?!” Having diabetes can be challenging, but shouldn’t be limiting. There is absolutely no reason people with diabetes cannot live full, abundant lives. People who control diabetes instead of allowing it to control them feel free to travel, participate in sports, ride motorcycles, stay active, and enjoy every minute of their life. (For more info on having diabetes and riding motorcycles, please see Diabetes and the Art of Motorcycle Riding.)
Here are my top ten ways to live abundantly with diabetes:
- Do what you know you need to. In other words, stay compliant and follow the rules. Ignoring your condition will only lead to problems.
- Learn to laugh about it. Let’s face it, blood sugars are affected by so many different factors they sometimes don’t do what they should. Learn from every unexpected occurrence, but keep a sense of humor about the developments.
- Plan ahead, but be prepared for the unplanned. Always carry a fast-acting source of glucose and your blood sugar meter. If an unusual situation develops, test glucose levels more frequently.
- Get support. By “support,” I don’t mean someone who will let you whine. I mean find people who will listen and provide encouragement, but who are not afraid to hold you accountable if you start holding pity parties. I also give you permission to tell people to stop telling you what to do and to stop asking, “Are you sure you should do/eat that?” Educate those folks, set firm boundaries, and then move on if they continue trying to be the “diabetes police.”
- Let the grieving end. Every person with diabetes goes through a period of grieving. Unfortunately, many folks with diabetes get stuck in the “anger” stage of grieving. As a result, they are constantly angry about everything related to diabetes. Do whatever is needed to release your anger and bitterness so you can start living abundantly and enjoying your life. If needed, seek professional counseling. This is especially true if depression is starting to limit your ability to live a normal life. (And … YES … people with diabetes can live normal lives.)
- Stop talking about it constantly. It isn’t necessary to tell every new acquaintance you have diabetes. Try focusing on other conversation topics. You will probably find your circle of friends widens and you start receiving more social invitations.
- Hold yourself accountable. At the end of every day, take a personal inventory of what your thoughts focused on the most during the day. If diabetes consistently wins the prize, it’s time to start focusing on other things.
- Find a doctor who views you as part of the team and who allows you to control things without constant supervision. Many doctors are horrified if patients change their insulin dose or dietary plan, yet most people with diabetes have to do so to maintain control. Find a doc who recognizes you know more about controlling your glucose levels than s/he does and who welcomes your involvement in making changes.
- Cut yourself some slack. Even those of us who do “everything right” sometimes experience unusual highs or lows in glucose levels. Don’t blame yourself and don’t assume that every unusual occurrence was caused by you. Review what happened prior to the high or low and then think about anything you could have done to change it. Let the unexpected become learning situations. Also recognize that unusual fluctuations may occur which cannot be attached to a specific cause. Accept it, learn from it and move on.
- Stop limiting yourself! Make a list of five things you think you “can’t” do because you have diabetes. Now create a schedule of ways you can gently attempt each of those things. Don’t try to go from zero to sixty overnight. Venture into the new activity in small doses. (Limit the list to legal things, please. In the US, diabetics cannot be astronauts, scuba dive, hold a pilot’s license, be police officers in some states or drive passenger vehicles. Set your sights on legal activities which are similar.) Evaluate things you’ve been told you should “never” do to see if it makes sense to not do it. Were you told you should never get a pedicure? Think about potential risks and then devise a work-around, such as taking your own tools. For the record, I think there are a variety of common activities diabetics are often warned against that make no sense at all. If you want to get a piercing or tattoo, wear open-toed shoes, have a body part waxed, etc., consider the risks and take proper precautions.
How ’bout you? Is diabetes your identity or a tiny part of what defines you?
Note: I know many people will respond negatively to this post. This is purely my opinion. Please keep your comments balanced and kind.
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